Economic Principles of Electoral Behavior in India


Though the critical functions of money in sustaining the economic system as a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value  is well known, there has been little discussion on the close similarity between the principles underlying the functions of money in the economy and that of   faith and religion in the electoral behavior and political economy of India.  The economic dimensions of voting behavior in India is extremely unique as it  reflects a complex decision making process by the electorate  intermixing   the principles of economics with that of faith and religion.

Theoretical analysis of electoral behavior are largely based on  electoral experiences   in the democracies of Western Europe and North America focusing on  political psychology of voters without much attention to the underlying economic principles. They are more of a political analysis of   how electorate makes informed political choice despite their relatively low level of political sophistication and understanding of the intricacies of the power strategies of political parties . Psychological analysis of electoral ergonomics  have also  identified  the role of emotions and affective influence  in voting behavior i.e surprise, anger, anxiety, fear, pride, influence of political campaigns, pre-poll surveys, altruism, emotions and emotional bias.

In the Indian context, though  there is little doubt that faith and religion is a major determinant of voting behavior,  the  huge anticipated  economic benefits offered by the political parties to the  poor and vulnerable through their election manifesto  makes voting  as a  major economic decision making process. As electoral choice have a deep bearing on the welfare schemes for the poor, voters find themselves as major stakeholders in the electoral process.  It is in this context that the economic dimensions of voting behavior in India assumes major importance as it is seen as a choice with serious welfare implications to the vast majority of the poor.

The anticipated economic benefits of electoral choice tends to make voting as a new form purchasing power with the electorate who tend to utilize vote carefully as an economic decision making process  as an  electoral choice exercised through votes is  capable of performing most of the basic functions of money in the modern economy. Thus the  electorate in India have realized that while  money represents the  economic purchasing power which empowers  them with the  capacity to purchase goods and services, vote represents  political purchasing power which empowers them to choose the  political leaders and party which would  form the government.  Thus for the general public and particularly for  the vast majority of poor,  electoral choice in India  is a highly complex balancing act between political choice and economic decision making .

While one of the basic functions of money is to serve as a “medium of exchange”, faith and religion have emerged as a “medium of exchange” for votes in the modern elections. One of the adverse  fall out of this development in the political economy of the country  is that  issues relating to  faith and religion have  taken  precedence over critical  economic  issues  facing the country like poverty , corruption and governance reforms, pollution control and environmental safety, ensuring basic needs like  food security, housing, water supply and sanitation, improved infrastructure in education, health etc.

The  transition of a system of electoral preferences of voters  from critical  socio- economic issues  towards those based on faith and religion is in fact  rooted on the economic  principles of the” medium of  exchange” governing the role of  money in the modern economic system with votes  acting as a powerful  medium of  exchange  based on preferences of  faith and religion.

Another powerful role played by  faith and religion in electoral politics is identical to  the pivotal  role played by  money in the modern economic system  as a “unit of account” where the value of goods and  services  are  expressed in terms of money serving as a common denominator as well as facilitating comparison of different prices reflecting the relative value of different goods and services.

The thrust of the political economy of voting as  a “unit of account” is based on the value attached to issues relating to faith and religion enabling the voter to make an assessment of the “comparative advantage” of voting for a political party based on his preferences of faith and religion. Thus for the larger majority of voters,  each political party assumes an “invisible value” as a “ unit of account”  in electoral politics causing considerable inter-party competition to maximize its value as a unit account among the electorate. 

While money is  saved as a non-perishable  “store of value”, both voters and political parties look upon faith and religion as a “ commodity” with high store of value and  long shelf-life which  can be utilized for exchange of goods and services  if the party is elected to power. The large number of socio-economic  welfare schemes included in the political manifesto of various political parties prior to the election is based on the assumption that  each political party  should  maximize its image among the electorate  as an attractive  “store of value” for various segments of society for which faith and religion becomes an indispensable and the most attractive   ingredient.

Considering the major socio-economic  issues confronting the country particularly the growing unrest among debt ridden farmers and unemployed youth,  there is need to refocus  attention to resolve  these critical  issues rather than harping on  divisive issues with little economic content. Some  political parties of the country  have grossly underestimated the economic decision making potential of the Indian electorate and are under the illusion that issues  on faith and religion  are more important  than critical socio-economic issues facing the country.


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